Edited by Adrian Hanna GI0SMU. www.sixgolds.com.
Comber Historical Society
Comber in the 1870s

Comber in the 1870s

There is a very interesting cobbled pavement outside the house called Aureen in Comber Square. The pavement once belonged to the house, and this was where John Miller lived. His name can be picked out in white stone on the pavement. But to what do the figures on the pavement refer, the huntsman, hare and greyhound? Some say the greyhound is the famous Master McGra, which belonged to Lord Lurgan and won the Waterloo Cup for the third time in 1871. Lord Lurgan’s cousin was James Brownlow, land agent for Lord Londonderry, after whom Brownlow Street is named. Others maintain that the pavement simply depicts a hunting scene. Whatever the truth of the matter, Master McGra didn’t survive long after his 1871 triumph, because he was dead by December. It was also in 1871 that John Miller sold the famous Comber Distilleries to Samuel Bruce, who lived in Gloucestershire, but installed as resident partner a man called J McCance Blizard. Miller’s remaining stock of Old Comber whiskey was sold in what was described as the largest auction of whiskey ever to take place in Belfast. Samuel Bruce was the largest buyer. Miller was also heavily involved in the Non-Subscribing Church in Comber, and in 1871 had the exterior finished in Portland cement at his own expense.

Remaining with the churches, up until this time the Methodist Church had been governed by the English Conference and was regarded as part of their overseas work. Now Comber Methodist was one of 38 churches which received an annual grant from the Irish Conference, and it changed its name from Mission Station. At Second Comber Presbyterian, the congregation were refused permission to retain Rev John Rogers as minister. Rev Rogers had been chosen to succeed Dr Henry Cooke as Professor of Sacred Rhetoric at Assembly’s College, Belfast, so the congregation was now declared vacant. Reference is made to the serious illness of Rev Rogers’ young son at this time. By the end of the year matters had still not been sorted out. The name of a Mr Thompson had been mooted as a possible successor to Rev Rogers, but no steps had been taken to ascertain the feelings of the congregation. And it seems that Second Comber were holding back in contributions to the Sustentation Fund for the support of ministers. There could be no moderation in a call before this was paid up. It was resolved that a congregational meeting be held to consider the new minister’s stipend.

The Twelfth of July demonstration was held in Comber in a field belonging to Mr Allen near the town. It was described as one of the largest demonstrations to be held in the North of Ireland, with 150 lodges representing Belfast, Newtownards, Portaferry, Conlig, Crossgar, Bangor, Donaghadee, Saintfield, Kirkcubbin, Ballynafeigh and Downpatrick, as well as Comber. William Johnston MP of Ballykilbeg was in attendance.

The Andrews Spinning Mill continued to thrive. A high standard of personal behaviour was expected. When Robert Forsythe applied in 1871 for position as spinning master he was warned that “unless you are strictly sober you need not think of coming to us”. Most of the workers were women, and some gained a reputation as outstanding workers. When Grace Ritchie left in October 1871 to go to America the Company’s books recorded that she was a “doffing mistress and first class worker”.

But November1871 saw the death of William Glenny Andrews, who had been involved in all aspects of the family business, but unfortunately had not trained anyone to succeed him in the milling and bleaching business. Every member of the family benefited from his will, with Isaac’s sons, Thomas James and John, receiving his interest in the flour mill.

Belief in the supernatural was very strong, as evidenced by Susan Welsh’s reaction to her daughter’s illness. The doctors blamed it on consumption, but others said it bore all the hallmarks of witchcraft. And so Susan consulted a noted curer of witchcraft. When her daughter got no better, he asked if anyone had borrowed something from her recently. It transpired that Eliza McKee, a neighbour, had got the loan of some salt. From this, suspicion arose that Eliza had bewitched the girl. And this led to Susan Welsh throwing a can of water over Mrs McKee. For this she was fined and severely reprimanded at Newtownards Petty Sessions. Also at the Petty Sessions, John Steel and Thomas Dickey were fined £1 (or a month in jail with hard labour) for assault and disorderly conduct at Comber. And there were several cases of drunkenness in the public street. On a more serious note, there was considerable interest in the death of David McCord, of alleged injuries received at Ballywilliam from William Petticrew. No evidence could be found to support the charge that the blow given by Petticrew had caused McCord’s death, and so Petticrew went free.

The Andrews Bleach Works in Comber closed down. Unfortunately, they had been allowed to become out of date and had been losing money for some years. The only successful section of the Andrews business seems to have been the Spinning Mill.

In January a soiree took place in connection with the “Royal Blues” LOL 1035. About 150 ladies and gentlemen sat down to tea, while the Comber Brass Band, only a short time in existence, played a selection of music. The principal speaker was James Boal of Newtownards. And on 5th November it was the turn of Comber White Flag LOL 244, who held their annual soiree and ball in Mr Niblock’s store in Bridge Street.

Concerts were always very popular, and we also read of one given in March at Second Comber by Comber Choral Society. There was also a social re-union held in the Market House in connection with the Comber “Excelsior” Quadrille Class. Another concert rounded off the year in December in the Erasmus Smith School in The Square. This was given by the band of the Royal North Down Rifles.

The trains were badly delayed at Comber Junction in January following a robbery at the station ticket office when a Mrs Morrow had her purse stolen by two women. Mr Gaynor, the stationmaster, ordered all the carriages to be searched, but nothing was found. Suspicion then shifted to a car that had left by road for Ballygowan, and the culprits were arrested near Ballynahinch. The station had its problems, with a clerk called John Knocker absconding with the ticket receipts, and disconnecting the telegraph apparatus to hinder his apprehension. And in October a train from Belfast broke down as it entered Comber Station. The breakdown was caused by the snapping of the eccentric strap, and it was considered fortunate that this did not occur when the train was proceeding at speed. But improvements were also taking place at the railway station. A handsome lamp had been installed in the centre of the portico, a sixteen inch globe illuminated by three gas burners. And a large sum of money had been spent on the construction of signals.

A trotting match took place from James Jeffrey’s public house in Comber to Conway Square, Newtownards. Robert Anderson of Gransha had laid a wager that Henry Carlisle of Ardmillan could not do the journey in 15 minutes. It took him 15¼ minutes, so Mr Anderson won the bet.

Second Comber were going through turbulent times in their search for a minister to replace Rev John Rogers. At a meeting on 29th February, it was decided that a list should be drawn up of candidates to be heard again. A large section of the congregation disagreed with this decision, wishing to call the Rev James Niblock of Newry with immediate effect. The meeting broke up in disorder, with claims that some people were allowed to vote when not qualified to do so, while others voted more than once. A protest was lodged with Presbytery, who set up a Commission to meet with the Session and congregation of Second Comber. This duly took place in March, with the majority now in favour of granting a call to the Rev Niblock. For the sake of harmony, however, a compromise was reached, and a decision taken to re-hear Rev Niblock, along with Rev S M Dill of Cumber, Co Londonderry and Rev John Cairns of Castlebar. There was some criticism of Rev John Rogers, still active in Second Comber, of some injudicious remarks he made reflecting on certain members of the congregation. At the end of May, the congregation again met for the purpose of presenting a call to the Rev Niblock. The majority was not sufficient to allow them to do so, and the accusation was made that there had been combined opposition, including from some licentiates of the Presbyterian Church. It was now resolved that there could be no settlement while Rev Rogers continued to occupy the manse. He was therefore asked to move out by 1st July, and Presbytery were asked that his resignation as minister of Second Comber should come into effect. They were also asked to take steps to appoint a Session of which Rev Rogers should not be Moderator, as there was only one ordained elder who had been elected by the Congregation. The other person, Francis Ritchie, had been put forward by Rev Rogers and had never been ordained. An interim session was subsequently appointed, but does not seem to have met with approval, and protests were handed in to Presbytery by William Smiley, an elder, and Francis Ritchie. In September it seems that Rev Rogers was still living in the manse, and a meeting of the congregation decided that they were therefore still not in a position to call a minister. By November that position had altered, and a call was made to Mr W T Kirkpatrick, a licentiate of the Belfast Presbytery. Nothing appears to have come of this.

There was concern over the death of an old man named William Evans, who was of unsound mind and, following his discharge from the Belfast Lunatic Asylum, had been residing at Cherryvalley with a relative called William McKee. The deceased’s nephew, John Evans, had complained that his uncle was not receiving proper treatment, and Dr James Frame found him to be in a very filthy state. Evans subsequently died, and an inquest found that he had suffered from neglect.

In July the excursion of the Sunday School in connection with the Remonstrant (Non-Subscribing) Congregation took place to Newcastle. And in the same month, the Rev T S Woods of Ballygowan gave a lecture on the Siege of Derry to a large audience in a field beside Maxwell Court Mill. The Independent Order of Good Templars also hosted a lecture, this time in First Comber schoolroom, when the speaker was John Pyper on the subject of “Nature, History and Revelation”.

A correspondent to the Newtownards Independent lamented on the state of the Gillespie monument. If kept in order and painted regularly, it would be an ornament to the town, but its present gloomy aspect was a disgrace. He had been informed that someone in the town received an annual sum of money for its upkeep, but suggested a committee, possibly made up of members of the Masonic Order, be formed to receive subscriptions for its maintenance.

The new Roman Catholic Church of St Mary of the Visitation in Market Street was dedicated on 8th September. The ceremony was performed by Dr Dorrian, Bishop of Down and Connor, and was attended by a large crowd, many of whom were transported by special trains laid on from Belfast. The congregation included members of the Protestant community, and those who took up the collection included the names of James and Thomas Andrews. A select choir from Belfast performed sacred music, and later luncheon was provided in the Court House. The church is on land donated by Lady Londonderry, and is in the early Gothic style.

In January 1873 the Methodists in Bridge Street were coming under attack during the services. A policeman named Tweedy was accordingly stationed behind the wall, and witnessed two eleven year old boys throwing stones through the window. They were apprehended and ordered to appear at Newtownards Petty Sessions. Not all were happy with the conduct of the police in the affair, but the Newtownards Independent gave its endorsement to their actions and condemned the window breakers.

Also in January, it was reported that the wife of Samuel McKeown of Mill Street had died after taking suddenly ill. And in a nasty accident at the railway station, a porter named Andrew McNeely missed his footing when trying to jump on to an engine. The wheels passed over his foot, severely mutilating it. Another railway employee met with an accident in December, and this time it proved fatal. The body of James Montgomery, a porter, was found in a drain opposite his own house in the Crescent. An Inquest gave the verdict that he had tripped, fell into the drain and was killed.

Eventually on 17th June the long-running saga at Second Comber was ended with the installation as minister of the Rev Stuart James Niblock. Rev Niblock was formerly minister of Riverside congregation in Newry, where he had been ordained in 1869. In Dr Killen’s charge to the congregation, he congratulated them on their choice of such a gifted and excellent minister. He also credited them with the efforts they had made towards maintaining their minister and also for the manner in which they were repairing the church and manse. Afterwards the Presbytery were entertained to dinner by John McConnell. In the evening a congregational soiree was held to welcome the new minister. And on the 19th June a few of the tea-makers and stewards had their own soiree in the schoolroom. Problems hadn’t gone away completely, however, and a memorial from members of Second Comber was again before Presbytery in September alleging that they had never chosen John Cairns as elder and he should not be entitled to act as such. This was deferred until after the planned Visitation of the congregation in the following February. Then we have a self-styled “lover of good music” referring to the wretched state of the choir. He thought the adoption of instrumental music would be a vast improvement on the present arrangement, which was to save the expense of employing a precentor, candidates for which had been heard some months past. He pointed out that Mr J D Harper, the teacher in Second Comber National School, was precentor in one of the leading Belfast churches, and asked why his services could not be retained in the church to which his school was connected. To add to his tirade, this “lover of good music” drew attention to the miserable appearance of the pews. At the present time, when painters were working at the church, would be a good time to paint or stain the pews. But the choir also had their defenders, such as Robert Withers, a former precentor at Second Comber, who was adamant that the young ladies and gentlemen should be encouraged in their efforts. The Sunday School was certainly flourishing. At the end of 1873 numbers on the roll had increased from 40 to 170.

In July a heavy shower of hailstones was recorded between Comber and Scrabo. That wouldn’t have been conducive to good cricket, and we begin to read of some early matches, not only of the famous North Down Club, but also of Comber Spinning Mill, who had their own team. The Hackling Department were particularly impressive, beating the remainder of the Mill by 5 runs and 3 wickets.

A search for coal had been undertaken in the neighbourhood of Comber. By September excavation had reached a depth of 60 feet. But it seems that nothing of significance was found.

A correspondent wrote in to the Newtownards Chronicle complaining that businesses in Comber were still remaining open until 8 PM, instead of closing at 7 PM like the shops in Newtownards.

In September a farmer named Francis Boal was summoned to Newtownards Petty Sessions by Constable Robert Parker. His offence – he had unlawfully kept a cow infected with the lung disease at Ballyaltikilligan and failed to notify the police at Comber. By the end of the year there was a new addition to the Comber police, when Sub Constable James Boyce was moved from Newtownards.

At Comber Hiring Fair in October, men were hired for between six pounds and ten guineas per half year, and girls for three to four pounds. A recruiting party from the North Down Rifles were also in attendance and enlisted a number of youths.

The condition of Comber Square came in for criticism in November, with one correspondent describing it as a quagmire. He enquired as to whose duty it was to maintain the upkeep of the Square, and complained in particular about the miserable market shed erected a few years ago. This housed the weighbridge, and he thought that at least part of the money paid by the weighmaster for the use of this shed, which was erected by public subscription, should be used to improve the Square.

In December the Poor Law Guardians moved that the salary of the medical officer of Comber Dispensary District be raised to £100 in view of the very extended district.

In January Comber Old Standard LOL 567 held their annual soiree and ball in Mr Henry Murdoch’s barn. The barn was tastefully decorated with flags representing the lodges of the district. And the body of a Newtownards Orangeman called William Woods, an innkeeper, was laid to rest in Comber graveyard on 3rd February following an Orange-style funeral.

Frequently notices appear in the newspapers advertising manure for sale at the Comber Distilleries. There were also the usual squabbles, such as that which occurred at the Railway Station when William McCallum, “whipper-in” for the Dufferin Hounds, was assaulted by George Hiles of Comber and Robert Drummond of Belfast.

Matters seem to have settled down at Second Comber, and in April two new elders were installed, William Berkeley and John Ritchie.

But Gillespie wasn’t happy. An alleged letter from the renowned general to the editor of the Newtownards Chronicle complains about the disgraceful shed beside him. If only he could get down from his perch, he would get some powder and blow the whole edifice in true balloon style to the Glass Moss. Unfortunately he can’t get down, for the painters have taken away the ladders.

Heavy rain prevailed at the October hiring fair, with the result that the attendance was the lowest seen for several years. The supply of stock was also somewhat limited. A large number of farm servants were looking for employment, and were engaged at record prices. Sub-Inspector Robinson was in charge of the police, but there was no major trouble, just a few cases of drunkenness on the streets.

Constable Parker was successful in an examination for head constable, and subsequently was transferred to Newry after ten years in Comber. He was apparently very well thought of by the people of the town, who presented him with the gift of a purse of gold sovereigns on his departure. One of his last acts in Comber was to arrest William Dobbin for stealing two cows belonging to Alexander Lamont, which were being grazed on the lands of Jim Gracey at Ballystockart. Dobbin confessed to selling the beasts at Saintfield to a man whom he could not identify. Constable Parker was also involved, along with Sub-Constable McNamee, in rescuing a 2½ year old boy, from a pet pig which attacked him in Castle Lane. The boy was the son of a labourer called Isaac Reid. Still on police matters, an incident occurred on the last train from Belfast in November. At Comber Station, Acting-Constable Boyce arrested a sailor named David Galbraith who had stabbed Arthur McPoland on the lip following a dispute. Galbraith was remanded to the next Newtownards Petty Sessions.

In May Mr James M Killen, son of the Rev Killen of First Comber, was licensed by Comber Presbytery to preach the Gospel.

The Comber Orangemen were to get an Orange Hall. In May local farmers carted over 50 tons of stone from the quarries of Messrs Ritchie & Jackson to the site in Railway Street, which had been granted by Lord Londonderry through his agent, James Brownlow. Following their visit to Newtownards on the Twelfth of July, the Orangemen visited the site, and in September the foundation stone was laid. It was to have been laid by Mr Brownlow, but in his absence in England, his son Claude deputised. A number of brethren marched with flags and music from Newtownards, Ballygowan, Belfast and the surrounding districts. Rev George Smith was in the chair, and there were addresses by Rev Woods of Ballygowan and Charles Ward of Belfast. A vote of thanks was passed to Arthur De Wind for his preparation of the plans for the new hall.

Alexander Murdoch was summoned by the Poor Law Guardians for polluting and closing up a public well at the Crescent. A wall had been built closing up the entrance, and people now had to go through Mr Murdoch’s yard to get to it. The water was yellow and unfit for use, and it was remarked that surface water from the yard was running into the well. A cesspool of liquid manure close by didn’t help. The magistrates at Newtownards Petty Sessions decided that they had no jurisdiction in the matter. The Crescent was also in need of a new sewer. This was debated at a meeting of the Poor Law Guardians in October, but the cost was prohibitive and so the idea was abandoned.

Comber Square was still coming in for criticism. It got into a very sloppy state after a few hours rain, especially when fairs or markets were being held and crowds were gathered there. And a crop of grass was growing up around the sides of the Square which gave it a neglected appearance. One correspondent suggested a border of ornamental trees along each side of the Square.

In September the inaugural meeting of Comber Mutual Improvement Society was held in Second Comber, when Rev Niblock gave an address on Youthful Ambition. Also in September, James Kyle was involved in a nasty accident in his scutch mill at Ringcreevy. Somehow he managed to get caught up in the machinery, and died shortly afterwards of his horrific injuries.

During December evangelistic meetings were being conducted in Comber by Stephen Burrowes and others.

In January, Second Comber appointed a large committee to serve for the year 1876, as well as adding some new members to the school committee. There was some discussion about certain unauthorised persons going round collecting subscriptions in the name of the congregation, and Rev Niblock pointed out that such persons must have the approval of Session and Committee. Around the same time a rather tempestuous committee meeting took place. What exactly this was about is unknown, but apparently some matters were brought up which “did not tend to promote the peace and prosperity of the church”. Rev Niblock felt it necessary to make a “very stringent deliverance”.

In February acting constable James Boyce was promoted to constable. And still on the subject of appointments, in March Arthur De Wind became Permanent Way Engineer for the Belfast and County Down Railway.

A correspondent questioned the lack of willingness to take responsibility for matters relating to Comber. In the absence of Town Commissioners, a complaint might be brought to the attention of the county officials, but they passed the buck to the Board of Guardians who refused to take any action on the grounds of expense. One example was the proposed sewer for the Crescent. He also cited a new road made and hill cut at Carnesure which were a waste of money. The only sanitary improvements were those preventing labourers keeping pigs within a certain distance of their dwellings. Surely landlords should be forced into carrying out repairs on tenements which were uninhabitable. The old grate in Bridge Street had been replaced by a patent stench grate, but this was the only one for a distance of 250 yards and was useless in wet weather when the footpaths flooded. Water also spilled over into the neighbouring houses causing much damage. And the putrid gases rising from the sewers were unbearable. No wonder that well-known infectious disease called Scarlatina had been rife in Comber.

Perhaps livestock were looked after better. For in April it was recorded that four lambs were born to a sheep owned by Andrew Smith, a flesher of Comber.

At a meeting of Comber Mutual Improvement Society held in Second Comber Schoolroom, a few ladies were in attendance. The topic was “Members’ Scraps”, on subjects such as The Land Laws of Our Country, The Comber Correspondent in the Chronicle, Drunk As A Lord, and The Unpopularity of Marriage. Rev Niblock had presumably read these addresses beforehand, as he intimated that several of them contained remarks of a personal nature, which he thought proper to omit. Later in the year, the 1876-77 season got off to a good start with a very successful concert in October.

Easter Monday was a general holiday in Comber, and many left for the day to go to places such as Belfast, Bangor and Donaghadee. A large contingent of the young folk ventured to Scrabo, while a number of sports took place in Comber. I wonder was Robert McCann practising for these. Some time ago he had lost one of his hands in an accident at a mill, but on Easter Sunday he went to a field near the railway station to jump, and in doing so broke his thighbone.

Comber Presbytery arranged the following topics for preaching on Sabbath evenings commencing 4th June – “Salvation; in what it consists and how it is attained”; “Saving faith, what it is not and what it is”; “Regeneration; its necessity, author, instrument and fruit”; “Repentance unto life”; “Sanctification”; “the Moral Law, its universal and perpetual obligation”; “The Sabbath”; “Religion in the Family”; “Temperance”; “Baptism, its mode and subjects”; and “The Christian Ministry”. And in December Presbytery considered the proposals of the Psalmody Committee of the General assembly respecting tunes and chants. Generally speaking, they found the proposals acceptable, but as many of the new tunes were unknown in the congregations, they could not be introduced immediately. Some familiar old tunes were being omitted from the new book, and Presbytery were of the opinion that these should be published in an Appendix. They also felt that some of the new versions were faulty in rhythm.

The Andrews family business was in a bad way, showing a loss since 1868 of some £2,000 a year. And so Isaac’s son John (known as John Junior) was persuaded to return home from Liverpool, where he had been sent to learn the milling business and had become manager of the North Shore Flour and Rice Mill. John was given sole control of the milling business at Comber, which was soon showing a profit.

An accident took place at the Upper Corn Mill when Tom Clarke, the engineer, was gripped by the gears of the waterwheel. He would have been crushed had it not been for a fifteen year old boy called Willie Drennan, who pushed back into place a baulk of timber that had slipped and so prevented disaster. About twenty years later Tom Clarke became works manager of the Belfast Mills of Isaac Andrews & Sons, and Willie Drennan the head miller. This is recorded in “Nine Generations – A History of the Andrews Family of Comber, Co Down”, written by Sidney Andrews.

Cricket matches were not always played with equal numbers on the teams. For instance in May a team of sixteen from the Spinning Mill took on eleven from the North Down Club, and soundly thrashed them.

The Twelfth of July saw the Comber Orangemen at Groomsport, while later in the month some 400 scholars and friends from First Comber Sabbath School had their annual excursion to the Spa. After devotions, they marched to the Railway Station behind the Westminster Temperance Flute Band from Belfast, and had a very enjoyable time at Montalto, the residence of Captain Ker. And 500 Spinning Mill workers made their way to Lady Annesley’s demesne at Newcastle, where sports were indulged in and also dancing to music from the band of the Royal North Down Rifles. Meanwhile, on completion of the gathering in of the harvest, Mr William Martin of Ballyalloly House entertained forty employees to a substantial supper.

Towards the end of the year an accident occurred on the railway between Dundonald and Comber early on a Saturday morning. A luggage train with a carriage attached for the convenience of passengers attending Newtownards Market had just reached the sixth milestone when one of the centre wagons gave way and the couplings were broken. The engine and front wagons went on, leaving the disabled one behind blocking the line, and throwing four of the five rear wagons down the embankment. Goods were scattered about the line, but fortunately there were no injuries and the line was cleared in time for the 7-30 train to pass.

James Milling intimated that he had added a new hearse to his undertaking business, and was now prepared to execute all orders entrusted to him in first class style. And the Spinning Mill was advertising for a teacher for a new National School in Comber. This opened in March, with Kate White as the first principal. By July she seems to have been relegated to assistant, with William Groves as teacher. There was also an assistant called Maggie Graham from April until June, and she was replaced by Rachel Porter.

On 13th February the Farmers’ Arms pub in High Street was up for auction. And in March Jane Anderson of High Street was applying for a license to sell drink at her premises.

Comber Mutual Improvement Society was thriving with weekly Monday meetings and a system of monthly lectures. The 1876-77 session was brought to a successful conclusion in April with an attractive and varied programme of readings and music in Second Comber Church. Unfortunately, proceedings were somewhat marred by the choir moving off the platform before the programme was completed, and this led to most of the audience in the gallery leaving their seats before the business was concluded.

May saw a trotting match take place from Frances Street, Newtownards to the Crescent, Comber. The adversaries were Jim Crow, a pony owned by William Connor of Belfast, and White Rock, the property of John McCann of Ballydorn, driven by William Coates. Jim Crow was the favourite, but was overtaken a short distance from the start and never recovered. There was a less friendly encounter between two car drivers named James McDonald and John Glover on the way home from Newtownards Flower Show. McDonald charged Glover with crossing him on the road, and the matter came to blows when the two men went to the river to wash their horses.

John Gaynor, stationmaster at Comber for the last eleven years, was transferred to Newtownards, and replaced by John Kelly, who had been an inspector at the Belfast terminus for the last three years. No sooner had Mr Kelly taken over than there was a tragic accident on the railway when Mrs Agnes Withers was killed by a train at the Killinchy Street level crossing. Mrs Withers was responsible for opening the gates to let the trains through, but on this occasion she seems to have lost sense of the time. She was alarmed to hear the whistle of the train as it emerged from Evans’ Cutting (presumably the cutting past the Newtownards Road crossing), and rushed out to try and open the gates. Unfortunately, she lost her life. At an inquest held immediately afterwards, the jury recommended that in future women should not be employed to look after the gates at level crossings, and also that proper clocks should be provided.

Another accident with less serious consequences occurred towards the end of August when the engine of the stone train from Scrabo quarries ran off the line. As a result it was decided to alter the curve of the line at this point, as it was considered too sharp for heavy traffic. Still with the County Down Railway, and Arthur De Wind was forced to resign as engineer due to health problems. He was said to have brought the line into excellent working order.

In early July there were some heavy rain and hail showers, which it was feared would damage the flax and other crops. Following a severe thunderstorm at Comber hail covered the ground to a depth of three inches. July also saw the opening of the Orange Hall in Railway Street. Later in the year, in September, there was a large demonstration on the occasion of its inauguration. We are told that on this occasion a number of the brethren carried an old, respected member of the Institution called David McMaster from Mill Street to the door of the Orange Hall. (I wonder is this the same David McMaster involved in a case of assault at Comber Railway Station in November). The evening was then spent in transferring property of the various lodges to the new hall. There were obviously debts to be paid off, and in November a concert was given by Matthew Anderson to help liquidate these. Meanwhile the Twelfth had been held at Barn Hill in a field belonging to Mr Samuel Stone. It was generally felt that a worse field for effect could scarcely have been selected, not the usual commanding position chosen for such occasions. And there was a hitch when all the Comber lodges went to meet the contingent from Newtownards rather than dividing with some going to meet the Belfast lodges. However, the Twelfth was, as usual, a great success, Speakers included the Rev George Smith of Comber, James Jeffrey of Newtownards, and Rev Joseph Dickson of Mariner’s Church, Belfast.

Rev James Niblock resigned as minister of Second Comber Presbyterian Church, having accepted a call to Newark Church, Port Glasgow. He was inducted to his new charge in August, although there seem to have been some differences concerning him in the Greenock Presbytery. A call was subsequently made by Second Comber to Mr David A Taylor, a licentiate of the Belfast Presbytery. He was ordained and inducted as minister of Second Comber in December.

In September a 7-year-old girl had a narrow escape from drowning while playing at the new bridge near the railway station. She fell in to the river and was about to be carried through the archway when a man called Robert Anderson, nicknamed “Slasher”, came to her rescue and pulled her clear.

In October Thomas Patton was summoned for selling intoxicating liquor in his pub at Railway Street after 10 pm. And Henry D Ritchie had to appeal against a decision of the magistrates to refuse renewal of his licensing certificate on the grounds that his house was improperly conducted. The decision was reversed. Meanwhile, in the Railway Tavern belonging to Michael Todd, the property of Robert Todd in Railway Street was auctioned. Four 2-storey dwelling houses had been built on this, which were let out to tenants.

A soiree was held in December in the Non-Subscribing Church for the purpose of presenting an address to the Rev John Orr, minister of the congregation. This was read by Mr Blakely Orr. The opportunity was also taken to increase the stipend of the minister. An Orange soiree and ball was also held in the Orange Hall to celebrate the anniversary of the shutting of the gates of Derry. Dancing continued into the early hours of the morning.

Over 90 poor householders received 14cwt of coal each during Christmas week. But the year ended with another tragedy. Following a firearms accident, Alexander Hill of the Crescent died from the effects of a pistol shot from a revolver. It seems he had been showing the revolver to a neighbour, and the latter discharged it into Mr Hill’s abdomen, not realising it was loaded.

The year began with the congregation of St Mary’s entertaining the church choir to tea in the schoolhouse. In return the choir sang for their supper. The rector brought words of encouragement to the choir, complimenting them on the great improvement they had made, but also urging them to more regular attendance at the practices. Still at St Mary’s there was a dispute over the burial of a corpse in “Gracey’s Ground” against the wishes of both the incumbent and Mrs Jane Murdoch, to whom the ground belonged. Mrs Murdoch won her case to have the corpse disinterred, and it was removed to another grave belonging to the Jamison family in what was termed the “new ground”.

Second Comber acknowledged the generosity of one of their members in the minute book of the church committee. They sincerely thanked John McConnell for his generosity in the recent decoration of the interior of the church and school buildings, and also for the ornamentation of the grounds and his contribution towards reduction of the congregational debt. Later in the year it was decided to replace Communion tokens with printed tickets, and to do away with the series of tables currently used at Communion.

In April a remarkable cockatoo died. It belonged to John Miller, who had bought it 52 years ago, and it was said to be old even then. April also saw a marriage in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church – that of Miss Andrews (Fanny), only daughter of the late John Andrews JP, former agent of the Marquis of Londonderry, to Mr Edmund William Garrett. The workers of the Spinning Mill were given a half day’s holiday, and hundreds gathered outside the church, and later beside the railway station to see the bride and groom off on their honeymoon. The bride was here presented with a bouquet of flowers by one of the female workers. In the evening tar barrels were burned on several of the hills around the town. Later, in June, there was to be another wedding when Samuel Bruce, owner of the Distillery, got married in England. His wife was from County Cork.

Back in April, Comber Presbytery agreed to petition Parliament in favour of the Sunday Closing Bill. And William Murdock of Mount Alexander brought a case to court against James Steele of Castlebeg for the death of fourteen sheep. He tried to recover £44, after discovering dogs belonging to Mr Steele worrying his flock. The following month, John Horner of Ballyaltikilligan was fined for travelling on the railway without a ticket.

Nelson Morton, a gateman at the Upper Distillery, attempted to commit suicide by taking poison, which he had obtained from a local druggist. He was given an emetic and sent to the Royal Hospital, where he recovered.

A football match took place at Comber when the home team took on Belmont. This was actually Rugby Football, and Belmont were the winners by one goal, three tries, ten touches to nil. Sport was also the order of the day on Easter Monday, with the Comber Amateur Athletic Sports and Donkey Races held in a field near the railway station. A grand display of fireworks brought the day to a close.

Robert Todd of Mill Street was erecting houses on the Glen Road. Over the past few years he had also built a number of houses in Railway Street.

May saw a by-election held for County Down when James Sharman Crawford, the sitting member, died. William Drennan Andrews, of the Comber family, stood as a Liberal candidate against Lord Castlereagh. He fought the election as a champion of Tenant Right, but lost. During the electioneering there were disturbances in Newtownards when it was stated that “the bludgeon men brought over from Comber” had tried to expel supposed supporters of Lord Castlereagh from a meeting held by the supporters of Mr Andrews. However, there does not appear to have been any trouble when Lord Castlereagh appeared for a meeting in Comber Orange Hall. After the declaration of the poll results, people gathered at the street corners in Comber, where the result was generally well received. In the evening a large crowd followed a fife and drum band through the town, testifying their appreciation of Lord Castlereagh.

The sanitary condition of Comber was coming in for criticism in June, especially neglect of a sewer in Mill Street, which was creating a “nuisance”. But a correspondent also pointed out that the streets in general were in a terrible state, and after a shower of rain the yellow clay soon made an appearance with the passing of a loaded cart. The centre of the streets were so badly formed that they became water channels.

In July the Non-Subscribing Church held a bazaar in the Church grounds to raise funds for the erection of a schoolroom and other improvements. The weather was fine and sultry, and there was a large and fashionable attendance of visitors. The site was decorated with flags and banners, and all sorts of fancy work was displayed in the large marquee, loaned for the occasion by Newtownards Horticultural Society. In the unavoidable absence of John Miller, the bazaar was formally opened by James Andrews JP. During the afternoon the band of the Royal North Down Rifles played a selection of music, and Mr Callpott of Newtownards performed a number of popular airs on the piano. The bazaar was a great success.

The children and friends of Second Comber Sabbath School also got favourable weather for their annual excursion to Donaghadee in August. A procession of about 400, including children from Ballydrain Sabbath School, marched to the railway station behind the band of the Gibraltar training ship. At Donaghadee there were the usual refreshments and games. Back at Comber, the day ended with singing and prayer, and a few parting words from Rev Taylor. On the same day pupils from the Non-Subscribing Church were transported on sixteen cars to Scrabo for their outing. Later in the month the annual floral service took place in the Remonstrant Sunday School.

Comber United Band of Hope gave a successful entertainment in September in Second Comber schoolroom, when Mr Nicholson of the Irish Temperance League exhibited a series of limelight views of the Franco-Prussian War, and a choir of Band of Hope children rendered a number of hymns and melodies. On the same day as the concert, 19th September, the minister of Second Comber, the Rev David Alexander Taylor, was being married in Liverpool.

The October hiring fair was the largest for many years, despite heavy rain. First-class men got as high as £20 per annum, while girls were hired from £4 upwards. There was considerable drunkenness, and the police drafted in from Newtownards and the surrounding district, had occasionally to quell disturbances.

Drink was seen as a great evil in certain quarters, and the Exodus Lodge of the Independent Order of Good Templars was revived in Comber. At the weekly meeting of 5th November there were nine candidates for initiation. The following evening Comber True Blues LOL 1035, along with their lady friends, celebrated the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in the Orange Hall. Also in November, eight new elders were ordained in First Comber (Messrs Cairns, Gabbey, Carse, Shaw, Adair, McDonnell, McKee and Sloan).

The partnership of James Andrews and Sons was formally dissolved on 6th January, although the agreement was backdated to 2nd August 1878. By this agreement James and John Andrews withdrew from the flour milling business, which now became Isaac Andrews & Sons under Isaac and his two sons Thomas James and John Junior. The flax spinning mill continued under the name of John Andrews & Sons.

Second Comber had financial difficulties, with difficulties in the collection of money for the stipend and sustentation fund. In addition, a new heating system had to be installed (Riddel’s Hot Air Apparatus), the pulpit was replaced and all the windows of the church were fitted with stained glass. Special sermons were preached on behalf of the congregational debt, with the congregation being asked to subscribe £100 on a particular Sunday in January. A deputation also waited on Lord Londonderry for a donation. In April it was found necessary to remove from the stipend list several defaulters in payment of pew rent.

Rugby matches continued with fixtures between teams from Comber and Newtownards, and other teams such as R.A. Institution FC. There was apparently an increasing interest in rugby at this period.

There was a change in police personnel when Constable Hammond, in charge of Comber station for the past twelve months, was transferred to Gilford and replaced by Constable Logan. There continued to be a need for a strong police presence in the town, especially at the April hiring fair, which saw much lower wages being offered, owing to the depression in trade. Rain drove people into the public houses, with the result that there was more rowdy behaviour than for many a year, and at times four fights could be seen going on at once. More serious was the case when James Murray was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude for the manslaughter of Hamilton Carroll of Killinchy. And there was also an alleged sexual assault by three young men on a middle-aged woman called Mary Fitzsimons on her way from Comber to Newtownards. One of the youths had since enlisted in the army in the hope of escaping punishment. All three were sent for trial at the Quarter Sessions.

Phrenology was the subject at a meeting of Comber United Band of Hope held in the Orange Hall in January. The lecturer, Mr B T Herring from London, explained the various bumps on the brain and the effects produced on them by alcoholic drink. Several people came forward for examination. However, the following month one indignant correspondent was very unhappy with another meeting held on the subject of temperance. To begin with, the lecturer made a blunder and went to Newtownards rather than Comber. And when he arrived the main thrust of his address was about the Negro question, rather than temperance. The correspondent felt the real object of the meeting was to start a rival Good Templar Lodge to the “Exodus”, and to try and implicate the “Exodus” in countenancing the evils of Negro oppression by supporting an organisation that would not admit blacks to their ranks. That rival lodge was formed at the beginning of March when twenty persons were enrolled as members of the “Always Faithful” lodge in the Masonic Hall.

How is this for good neighbourliness? When Mrs McKee of Cattogs heard that her farm had not been sold, her neighbours assembled with sixty-one ploughs and turned over all the land she wanted ploughed for the season.

There was a large turnout at the funeral of Dr Shaw, a young man of thirty who died at his residence in Bridge Street. He was buried at Killinchy. And on the subject of funerals, John W Ritchie of Bridge Street was advertising that he could now supply funerals with either one or two horse hearses.

On 11th May Rev John Orr resigned as minister of the Non-Subscribing Church. He had been installed in 1850. Two houses were built in Mill Street (Numbers 58-60) by the Non-Subscribing Church. A date-stone appears on the building. The larger house was the residence of the caretaker, while the smaller had stables to the rear. The church gates in Mill Street may be contemporary with the houses.

In July a correspondent wrote to the Newtownards Chronicle about the recent flooding in Comber. He blamed the weir (or “battery” as it was commonly termed), erected on the Comber River to keep up sufficient water for the Distilleries. This weir was three feet above the bed of the river, causing the water to be three feet higher, and thus the river to overflow its banks. He suggested removal of the weir and its replacement by a continuous line of sluices, which could be opened when the waters got to a certain level.

In September the town was shocked by the death of the Rev James M Killen, minister of First Comber since 1843. Although ill, he had preached on the previous Sunday, as he could not obtain a supply for his pulpit. Dr Killen was a great scholar and a collector of books, some of those in his library being rare and valuable. He himself had written a couple of treatises – one in 1854 entitled “Our friends in Heaven”, which sold many thousand copies, and another a few years later called “Our companions in Glory”. His brother W D Killen was President of Assembly’s College, Belfast.

To end the year, 111 poor households in Comber received half a ton each of the best Whitehaven coal. This was largely due to the generosity of John Miller.

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